last update: 24 October 2020
By chance there was a question on a TV quiz show about naming "famous Smith's". It was a topic I had not really even thought about, and I was surprised that I had no idea who most of them were. And even after they put a name to a face, I still had no idea who most of them were. But as a celebrity once said "I guess I'm gonna fade into Bolivian", and I think 'Bolivia' is the best place for most of those so-called "famous Smith's".
So I've decided to collect on this webpage Smith's who I think are worth a mention. There is in fact a long list of "famous Smith's" on Wikipedia, most of which are considered noteworthy simply because they play a sport, are a politician, or appear on TV. Frankly, most of them wouldn't know where Bolivia was even if their fame depended on it.
My list is much shorter and includes Smith's who I think really merit a mention, plus a few that I have actually heard of (even if I can't remember why or when). I've also added a few additional Smith's simply because an unusual or odd fact is associated with their name.
Smith - the name
Wikipedia actually has a webpage dedicated to the surname 'Smith'.
Smith is a surname originating in England. It is the most prevalent surname in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States (including with African Americans).
The name refers to a smith, originally deriving from smið or smiþ, the Old English term meaning 'one who works in metal' related to the word smitan, the Old English form of smite, which also meant strike (as in early 17th century Biblical English: the verb "to smite" = to hit). The Old English word smiþ comes from the Proto-Germanic word smiþaz.
The use of Smith as an occupational surname dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, when inherited surnames were still unknown. For example, Ecceard Smith of County Durham, North East England, was recorded in 975 as the given name of a slave when granted his freedom. However there is a reference to a 'weapon smith' said to date from as early as the 6th century. And it would appear that Smith was even more popular when personal surnames became necessary as governments introduced personal taxation (1799 in the UK).
It is common for people in English-speaking countries to adopt the surname Smith in order to maintain a secret identity, when they wish to avoid being found.
And here is my list…
Abel Smith (baptised 14 March 1717 – 12 July 1788) of Wilford House in the parish of Wilford, near Nottingham, England, served thrice as a Member of Parliament (MP). He seems to have become an MP as much with the business advantages in mind as with any high political ambitions. Shortly before he was first elected in 1774 he is quoted as writing, "I see many solid advantages accruing to my family from a seat in Parliament, the best of which, the article of franking [the right to free postage, valuable in those days of heavy postal rates], will save a very considerable expense in so extensive a business as that I am engaged in". Abel Smith is not really a 'famous' Smith, but there are a couple of interesting historical facts associated with him.
Firstly, a 'Free Frank' was accorded to MP's, indicating that mailed items did not require postage. MP's were even appointed to the boards of large companies in order that their mailings could make use of the free franking privilege. In 1764 an Act of Parliament was passed to prevent abuses which included a penalty of transportation for seven years for anyone convicted of counterfeiting hand writing in order to send mail free of postage. By the 1830's around five million franks were used annually. The system eventually ended with the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post in 1840.
Secondly, there is also mention of Abel Smith buying a couple of pocket boroughs. A rotten or pocket borough, also known as a nomination borough or proprietorial borough, was a parliamentary borough or constituency before the Reform Act 1832, which had a very small electorate and could be used by a patron to gain unrepresentative influence within the unreformed House of Commons. A parliamentary borough was a town or former town which was (had been) incorporated under a royal charter, giving it the right to send two elected burgesses as Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. For centuries, constituencies electing members to the House of Commons did not change to reflect population shifts, and in some places the number of electors became so few that they could be bribed or otherwise influenced by a single wealthy patron. The term rotten borough came into use in the 18th century, and it meant a parliamentary borough with a tiny electorate, so small that voters were susceptible to control in a variety of ways, as it had declined in population and importance since its early days. The word "rotten" had the connotation of corruption as well as long-term decline. In such boroughs most or all of the few electors could not vote as they pleased, due to the lack of a secret ballot and their dependency on the "owner" of the borough. Pocket boroughs were parliamentary boroughs which could effectively be controlled by a single person who owned at least half of the "burgage tenements", the occupants of which had the right to vote in the borough's parliamentary elections. A wealthy patron therefore had merely to buy up these specially qualified houses and install in them his own tenants, selected for their willingness to do their landlord's bidding. As there was no secret ballot until 1872, the landowner could evict electors who did not vote for the man he wanted.
A Grade II listed Wilford House (in Clifton Lane) was sold in 2019 with its 1.5 acres of landscaped grounds. In 2004 it was owned by a 'local family trust' and the new owners are an engineering consultancy. There is also a mention of a local garden centre that was once the stable block of Wilford House.
John Abel Smith (2 June 1802 – 7 January 1871) was a Member of Parliament (MP) for Chichester and Midhurst. John Abel Smith is not really a 'famous' Smith, but there are a couple of interesting historical facts associated with him. Firstly, he was a founding partner of the Hong Kong-based trading company Jardine, Matheson and Co. The name 'hong' originally referred to the row of factories built outside of the city walls of Guangzhou (ex-Canton), near the Pearl River. The Thirteen Factories were used during the Canton System period to host foreign traders and the products purchased, all under the aegis of the cohong (guild of Chinese merchants). In Hong Kong, the name hong designated major business houses. One of the earliest foreign hongs established in Hong Kong was Jardine Matheson & Co., who bought Lot No. 1 at the first Hong Kong land sale in 1841. Jardine Matheson & Co. trafficked opium in Asia, while also trading cotton, tea, silk and a variety of other goods, and by the end of the 19th century they had become the largest foreign trading company in the Far East.
Also on 26 July 1858, John Abel Smith and Lord John Russell presented Lionel de Rothschild to the House of Commons. The House of Commons then voted to allow Rothschild, as a Jew, to take the oath on the Old Testament only.
Adam Smith (Scottish, ca. 16 June 1723 – 17 July 1790) was above all a pioneer of political economy, and a key figure during the Scottish Enlightenment. He was also known as ''The Father of Economics'' or even ''The Father of Capitalism''. Smith wrote two classic works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter, often abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is the first modern work of economics.
What is certainly true is that almost everyone has something to say about Adam Smith and his writings, and in my eyes that makes him a 'great Smith'. What I have done is to hunt around for an analysis that sits well with my thinking, but I make no claim whatsoever concerning originality.
Let's start with The Theory of Moral Sentiments and I'm going to para-phrase an early analysis that I felt was not too long or boring (but maybe incomplete and even 'looked down upon' by experts). The basic idea is that 'Sympathy' (i.e. moral sentiments) and 'Sociability' were "original passions" or "propensities" of our nature. We judge our neighbour's feelings by our own. We use our imagination to put ourselves in his place. We try to reproduce for ourselves his situation, and we even try to see how "an impartial spectator" would expect us, both, to feel and how they would judge our sentiments. Take the example of fortitude in distress. The distressed man must try to moderate his grief, and we must try to feel more of it. Smith sees this as being the amiable and respectable virtues of the ordinary man, as distinct from the noble, saintly, or heroic man, which Smith seldom expects to encounter. He seems to recognise that the majority of men will be morally and intellectually commonplace. There is also the question of Merit or Demerit. When we speak of the appropriateness of feelings, we are looking at the causes and motives of them. Merit or demerit comes into view when we look at the effects of the feelings and at the acts arising from them. Proper gratitude appears to deserve reward. Proper resentment appears to deserve punishment. A benefit conferred from bad motives does not awake our sympathy. We stops short of full sympathy if the sufferer brought it on himself. Revenge is seen as the excess of resentment. Actions which proceed from proper motives, seem alone to require reward. Actions of a hurtful tendency, which proceed from improper motives, seem alone to deserve punishment. As you can probably guess a book written in 1759 is not the easiest of reads.
I'm not going to try to summarise the entire content of Smith's book on moral sentiments, but as far as I can see 'Sympathy' and 'Sociability' are tools that help us look at and act correctly on any ethical issue (others might think that 'practical reason' might be a better approach). I like the fact that Smith takes choice as granted, we can decide to do or not do whatever the occasion. Men, within the limits of the opportunities and resources on offer, can create their own character for better or worse. All people need to do is follow rules and reason, and not be a slave to their passions. What does that mean in todays world? Just possibly what Smith was trying to demonstrate was that the normal actions of the ordinary man causes a stable and moral social order to emerge naturally.
Smith's book on The Wealth of Nations defines wealth as an abundance of "all the necessaries and conveniences of life which (the nation) annually consumes". This is about the sources of economic progress, and the proper role of the state in relation to the economic order. Smith's focus is on removing the miseries of poverty, not on acquiring material wealth, nor on the well-being of society. The equation is simple, everything must depend upon the number of people engaged in production and on the productivity of their labour (output per man). For a given population if standards of living are to rise, the productivity of labour must increase. And Smith writes that to increase productivity you need to split up the different operations of production into separate, specialist employments (division of labour), and apply "machines and instruments" which "enable one man to do the work of many".
In addition capital is needed to supply the labour market with more and better equipment and to build up the infrastructure of the economy (facilities such as roads, bridges and harbours). For that to be possible the economy must produce more output than is just required to replace the materials, equipment and subsistence of the workforce. So the economy must produce a surplus. Accumulation of wealth occurs when this surplus capacity is used to produce a net addition to the community’s stock of capital goods, i.e. the surplus is ‘ploughed back’ in the form of investment rather than used up in current consumption.
Smith puts great stress on the virtue of saving. The surplus production capacity can't be squandered or wasted in maintaining an excessive number of ‘unproductive’ members of society. Smith supposes that all savings would automatically go for investment, and entrepreneurs’ would always invest. Growth was seen as a self-sustaining, cumulative process, production capacity and demand for output expanding together (see theory of absolute advantage). As costs fell, real incomes and purchasing power increased and markets grew. Growing markets in turn induced, through a greater division of labour, further improvements in productivity, contributing in turn to rising output, incomes and demand.
Smith saw expansion not as a conscious overall plan, but as the by-product of individual actions motivated by self-interest. The system was "the uniform, constant and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition". The desire to "get on" prompts saving rather than consumption. The individual entrepreneur will exploit all possible opportunities for profit by improving productivity and extending productive capacity, thus growing the economy. Profit is the reason to use capital to support industry, and every individual will look to produce the greatest value. He does not intend to promote the public interest, but he is led by an 'invisible hand' to produce the greatest value and create 'naturally' order and harmony in economic affairs. It's the 'invisible hand', operating through the pursuit of private profit, that promotes the general expansion of the economy. It also ensures that output is consistent with the pattern of demand. Entrepreneurs will increase capacity and supply to markets where the relationship between demand and supply is such that prices offer the highest profit. Conversely, they will abandon sectors where the price is too low to yield an acceptable return on capital.
From this analysis of the economic mechanism Smith draws a fundamental conclusion. The most effective way to promote economic progress is to establish a simple system of 'natural liberty' so that every man is free to pursue his own interest in his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man.
For Smith's self-acting economic machine to function effectively, free movement of labour and capital should not be obstructed. And free competition in the product markets is essential to protect the public interest. The state should not grant perpetual monopoly privileges.
In Smith’s account of the distribution of national output amongst the members of society, capitalists, workers and landlords confront each other as rival claimants to share the national cake. What each class gets (in profits, wages or rent) depends on its bargaining strength. The wages of labour depends everywhere upon the contract made between two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. Whilst it is true the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him, but the advantage is with the master. Smith makes no bones about it, distribution of wealth depends on 'muscle'. On the ability of each class to shoulder aside competitors for a share of the national income. Despite the conflict between labour and capital over the division of current output, paradoxical as it may seem, a coincidence of interests does exist in the capitalist economy. Profits on capital are necessary to the workers as well as to the capitalists themselves. Profit provides both incentive and means to the capitalist to undertake investment. Investment creates employment and is essential for economic growth, which in time raises the living standards of all members of the community.
Smith argued that the state should not do what would be better done by private enterprise, but he did expect a positive contribution from the state. He regards that contribution as of vital importance for economic progress and social welfare. The primary function of the state is to ensure security of person and property. Smith also expected the state to intervene to create conditions under which the driving force of individual self-interest may most effectively advance the general interest. This included funding public works and certain public institutions, e.g. roads, bridges, harbours, canals and street lighting were mentioned. The adequate provision and efficient operation of necessary facilities, rather than the matter of ownership itself, were important to Smith.
Smith was in favour of helping companies to open up particularly risky markets. He supported patent rights that encouraged innovation. He supported tax measures to influence individual decisions. He also supported the imposition of a maximum rate of interest (favouring productive borrowers over spendthrifts). He wanted state intervention to prevent any injustice and suffering that may be caused by a system of 'natural liberty'. Smith was concerned that increasing the division of labour and specialisation would do serious damage to the intellectual, spiritual and physical well-being of working people. Schools should be compulsory and subsidised. He supported military exercises, and he argues for the state to encourage both science and philosophy, as well as the provision of public entertainments and exhibitions.
What Smith did not predict was the concentration of power of large joint-stock companies in utilities (gas, electricity, railways, etc) and other key industries (coal, steel). In Smith’s time trade unions were prohibited by law. Today labour monopolies in key sectors possess great economic and political power. However Smith’s principle of protective legislation has found widespread application, for instance, in product standards, conditions of work, public health and the environment. Smith accepted great disparities in conditions of life as inevitable and looked to economic growth as affording the better prospect of improvement to the poorest members of society. He did not envisage a welfare state as a different way to distribute political power. Smith did not see the maintenance of full employment as one of the duties of the state. He simply did not envisage a problem of general unemployment.
Smith’s advocacy of the system of 'natural liberty' should not be understood as a dogmatic prescription for laissez-faire, or of a 'hands-off' stance by government in relation to economic and social affairs. Common-sense and compassion characterised his view. To Smith, social suffering was not something to be tolerated helplessly as an immutable result of natural forces. An ideal economic system, as envisaged by Smith, would yield to society the benefits of individual initiative and effort while at the same time involving the state in correcting the deficiencies of private action and in safeguarding the interests of the community in general. To decry government intervention and public spending as inherently 'bad', or public ownership and central planning as 'good', is contrary to the spirit of the Wealth of Nations.
Sir Adrian Frederick Melhuish Smith (born 1946) appears in my list of famous Smith's because of his work on evidence-based practices, i.e. that occupational practices must be based upon scientific evidence (apparently a controversial idea before the early 90's). Unfortunately I could not find a truly accessible description of his work, nor a useful justification of his work on evidence-based practices despite it being mentioned in the Wikipedia entry. But there are still some good reasons for him appearing on my list, namely:-
He will become President of the Royal Society in 2021.
Recently he accused the UK government of a lack of transparency about the scientific advice it had received concerning Covid-19, hence downplaying it's lack of certainty.
In a report issued in 2019 Smith argued for the UK (post-BREXIT) to maintain the same level of R&D funding as per its presence in EU R&D programs. He also argued for the target of 2.4% of GDP to be spent on R&D.
In a report from 2017 Smith looked at maths education in 16-18 year olds. The main problem was that nearly ¾ of students at the age of 16 decided not to study maths. According to an international comparison the UK performs better than 36 other countries, but less well than another 18 countries, and it has not improved its position over the past years. Countries that were good examples were Finland, Japan, Korea, Russia, …, and even the US and Ireland were higher placed than the UK.
Adrian D. Smith (born 1944)
Next to check out Al Smith